Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Tommy's Take on Mistborn Adventure Game

I'm not going to pretend to know much about the Mistborn series, but I can do a little research. It seems the Mistborn series is a high fantasy setting by Brandon Sanderson in which the King of the Final Empire has remade the world...a world where heroes deal not only with the Lord Ruler's Steel Ministry, but a mist that falls over the land come nightfall, bringing with it horrible monstrosities. That sounds promising, actually.

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: The Mistborn Adventure Game is a massive tome (563 pages) at a very
reasonable price for the size ($14.99 for the PDF with what appears to be a $34.99 price tag for the eventual physical release). It uses its own game system and the tome would seem to be pretty comprehensive in and of itself. The PDF is bookmarked and searchable, a must have for a file this large. The book is in black and white, with a nice, easy to read layout. Again, a huge plus for the size of the book.

In fact, even the Introduction has three chapters: The first is a good overview of the world, touching on major features of the Final Empire and the setting's world: Scadrial. From the Lord Ruler to the Nobles (the people who supported the Lord Ruler in his efforts to remake the world) to the Skaa (the Lord Ruler's opposition, who are now an underclass) to the Inner and Outer Dominances (the ten regions that the Final Empire is divided into) to the frightening Mistwraiths, this is pretty much the setting crash course.

This is followed by a two page summary of the novels (with spoilers).

Chapter three of the introduction is a brief overview of the RPG, targeting people new to Mistborn (that's me!) and telling us just what we DO in this game (we form "crews" of rebels of varying skills but common goals who are raging against the Lord Ruler's proverbial machine.

There is also a second section here that focuses on people new to RPGs in general (say Mistborn fans who are picking this up but have never gamed before).

From there, we enter Book One: The Mistborn Adventure Game. This covers a little over 200 pages and is basically the "Player's book", covering everything from character creation on through rules. Characters have three attributes: Physique, Charm and Wits, generally ranging from 2 to 6 dice (the game uses dice pools). You then have three Standings, ranked from 2 to 10 dice: Resources, Influence and Spirit. Characters can also have powers like Allomancy (magic that involves burning and consuming metal), Feruchemy (where they stick aspects of themselves into "metalminds"), Hemalurgy (which is kinda creepy and involves using needles that have been used to kill people) and Mimicry (like shapeshifting). Next, characters have Traits (like "Braggart", "Perceptive", etc) and Resiliences (Health, Reputation and Willpower). Characters also have a Destiny and a Tragedy which can unfold over the course of the game.

Players use point buy for Powers, Attributes and Standing, with the amount of points given dictated by prioritizing them. Resiliences are derived stats, determined once you have spent all of your points. The game strongly encourages defining the crew first, so you can ensure that the players don't cover a lot of the same ground with their characters.

Advancement is achieved through earning Advancements, which work a lot like experience points in most games, but there is a very broad range of ways in which you can earn advancements, from defeating villains to overcoming your Tragedy to revealing major Secrets.

The system itself involves rolling the relevant dice pool for an action, modified by circumstances, tools on hand, etc. 6s get set aside, and you determine success by (hopefully) matching dice...your highest set of matching dice are your result. However, each 6 can be used to "Nudge" your action, even if it failed (reducing the amount of bad stuff that occurs).

With the basics out of the way, the rules then cover various types of conflicts (Physical, Social and Mental, with a good number of examples for each). One of the more interesting mechanics, though, is Changing the which you use your Standing to affect change around you. Resources can be used to acquire goods or bribe folks...Influence can do things like get laws changed...Spirit can do things like help you catch a lucky break.

The Kandra get a whole chapter to themselves, because they are the ones who do the Mimicry, so we get a breakdown as to how that works, why they would join a Crew and so on.

Book Two is the Treatise Metallurgic, just over 100 pages breaking down the other three powers (Allomancy, Feruchemy and Hemalurgy) as well as the exact effect the various metals have on using powers.

With Allomancy, the amount of juice you can get from a given metal depends on the quantity you consume...and if you don't consume it without a certain amount of time, your body goes into toxic shock (yeowch!). The pinnacle of the Allomancer is a "Misting Savant", who gains a couple of bonus Nudges when using their powers.

Feruchemists actually place aspects of themselves into metalminds, which they can then "tap" to supercharge their actions...but they become vastly different people while storing away their aspects. Cool, but creepy.

Hemalurgists steal aspects of other people by killing them with spikes, and these can be used in conjution with other powers.

There are 18 metals that can be used in Scadrial: The Physical Metals, the Mental Metals, the Enhancement Metals, the Temporal Metals and the God Metals...and the metals each have further aspects that can affect their uses in powers. Each metal has an entry that details its effects in the three powers. For instance, Allomancers using steel can manipulate loose metal objects around them, reflect attacks and "push" off of metal objects in order to move faster. Ferochemists use steel to store their speed...becoming sluggish until they tap the steel metalmind, potentially reaching speeds of up to 200 mph. Hemalurgists can use Steel spikes to store a power from ANY of the four physical metals: Tin, Pewter, Iron or Steel. This is some seriously cool stuff, and not just crazy combat stuff. For instance, Aluminum can be used to wipe out parts of your identity, while Copper can wipe out parts of your memory. Experience something traumatic? The choice can be in your hands to remove it completely. That can be some powerful stuff right there.

Book Three is Always Another Secret, and this takes up the remainder of the book (around 200 pages, plus there's character sheets and stuff). It kicks off with some pretty standard GM advice, but I do like how they make it a point to provide page numbers for the relevant parts of the book keyed to that advice. One of the most useful parts of this chapter is the "Mistborn style" chapter, giving you a bit of insight on the "feel" of Mistborn. There are overwhelming odds, but these guys are Big Damn Heroes. This isn't Ravenloft or Midnight (though I do love them both dearly) where you are canonically doomed to failure. Incidentally, that's an approach I like: Build up the wall of shadows and let the players tear it down.

Another section discusses picking apart the novels for inspiration, taking elements from there and expanding on them, or taking parts of the novels and going "What If?" with them. There is even a chapter that serves as a step by step construction of your own adventures (complete with a "Scheme" worksheet). An experienced GM may not need it, but a newbie GM may well love it.

Secrets are a big deal in the setting and game, and not only have their own chapter, but their own tracking sheet for the GM to use. Discovering a Secret can be a boost your PCs need to accomplish a task (complete with mechanical bonus for doing so). Similarly, we discover how important Destinies and Tragedies are. Achieving your Destiny can give you bonus Nudges to be used on any roll relevant to that Destiny, while the Tragedies can take Nudges away (perhaps driving you to despair in the process).

All of the major characters from the novels are presented here as well. I can't comment much on accuracy, but they do have a good chunk of background per write-up, as well as section on using each character as an ally or an enemy.

The Rogue's Gallery has a good selection of NPCs from common beggars to animals to warriors to The Steel Ministry to the creepy Koloss and the creepier Mistwraiths. This is followed by a handy section on piecing together your own NPCs.

Finally, the book wraps up with a bunch of blank sheets, like character sheets and secrets sheets.

WHAT WORKS: I feel pretty confident that someone could go into this not knowing a thing about the Mistborn series and come out of it with a pretty strong impression of the setting. A lot of care went into explaining things to the non-gamers who may pick this up, I thought, and I certainly liked the extra time put into cross referencing rules sections in the GMing chapter. The entirety of Book 2 is freaking cool, with the metals and their uses in the powers sets. For a book that's closer to 600 pages than 500 pages, not only is it very reasonably priced, but there is NOT a lot of wasted space at ALL. I also rather enjoyed the intertwining of Secrets, Destinies and Tragedies, complete with mechanical benefits.

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: I fear that the system has a bit of a "whiff" factor, although I may be underestimating the number of "matches" one can get with a d6 dice pool. I also question how newbie friendly this RPG would be, given that it's so close to 600 pages. The emphasis on "scripting" and "storytelling" is bound to turn off a segment of the RPG population that prefer a more "traditional" approach to gaming. That said, there is also a free primer you can download to check it out first.

CONCLUSION: Mistborn certainly isn't Just Another D&D. A great price on a massive volume grounded in a game system that has a lot of cool features to it. I'm probably going to look the Mistborn novels up on the Nook, and pick them up if they're available, because this game has convinced me this is a setting that interests me. If you're a fan of the novels and nervous about it being too much for you, don't worry...the authors offer you several hands along the way (including some insightful sidebars). Just a fair warning: If you haven't read the books and think you might want to, there are spoilers all over the place (though they do a pretty good job of warning you first). Great product, especially for the price.